Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms

Enter the Old Bill

Jack McVitie had disappeared but the police at this stage did not know what had happened. The woman he lived with reported him missing, but there was not much the authorities could do. Lots of people knew something had gone down, but the wall of silence remained up in the East End. Reggie and Ronnie went off for a holiday in Cambridge and then into the beauty and soothing solitude of the Suffolk countryside. Ronnie borrowed a car and was chauffeured around to look at rural properties. He could see himself as a country squire, riding to the hounds, trout fishing on his private estate. Reggie drank himself stupid most nights.

Back in London at about the time Reggie was making his kill and achieving his long time ambition to at last be the equal of his brother, another man was also accomplishing a long awaited desire. Physically smaller than the twins, at only five feet seven inches in height, he was a compact, dark haired man, with a serious smile and an easygoing nature. At forty-three, Leonard Read was promoted to detective superintendent, posted to Scotland Yard and allowed for the first time to wear a very special tie. A globe pierced with a stiletto on a maroon background, it signified him as one of the top twelve detectives in the nation.

Soon after moving into his new office, he was summoned to a meeting with assistant commissioner Peter Brodie. He was briefed on a secret inquiry that had been started months before. He was to take over and see it through. It was to be a top-priority investigation and its aim was simple. To stalk, track down, corner, and finally once and for all, catch the Kray twins.

Of all the policemen available for the job, Nipper Read was almost a perfect choice. He had enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks of the Metropolitan force, based on ability rather than political clout; he was already a detective-inspector by the early age of thirty-six, and was one of the youngest men to carry his present rank. A loner by nature, he had made police work his only interest and pursued it with a passion that allowed nothing else. He had no hobbies and few friends. His wife and teenage daughter had resigned themselves to coming second in his life, after his job.

A cool, deliberate professional, he did not underestimate the nature of the job he had been given, or the size of the problem. The twins had already beaten off the law on numerous occasions, and he himself had felt the power of their control, not only over gangland London, but also the media.

The first problem he encountered on taking over the investigation was the lack of co-ordinated intelligence available on the twins' activities. There also seemed to be a singular lack of urgency and even of interest among the top men at Scotland Yard to nail the brothers.

One thing Read soon established was the strength of the Krays and he realised it would take a mammoth effort to destroy them. He needed a lot of support and quickly put together a strong team to form his operating and administration weapon.

He brought in John du Rose, head of the Murder Squad; Superintendent Harry Mooney, Superintendent Don Adams, and for his personal assistant, Chief-Inspector Frank Cater. They, and the other fifteen staff that would form the nucleus of the "Get Krays" squad, moved into offices in a building called Tintagel House. It was located across the River Thames from Scotland Yard. When they were all settled into their new premises, Read called a meeting and briefed his team. He finished by telling them that he had set a deadline on their investigation. It was to be three months. As events would prove, it would take a bit longer than that.

Read had acquired his nickname "Nipper," as a light-weight police boxing champion when he fought as a young man early in his career. He was to display the same speed and guile in his war with the Krays. He set up parameters for his team in their preparation for the work ahead. They would be up against a deadly enemy. All of them would have regular handgun practice. At this time, as it is now, it was not common for British police to carry firearms. Reed's people had to become proficient with them. He knew that their opponents were. Security had to be strictly observed; travel routes would vary each day and each member would take all measures necessary to protect themselves and their families.

Read decided that one way to get the twins would be through their past. For over twelve years they had been extorting, wounding and committing other acts of a major criminal nature. Somewhere in among all of this, he reasoned there had to be a weak link in the chain fence the twins had erected to shields themselves from the law. He narrowed down potential targets to thirty and listed them in a black notebook. He called this his "delightful index."

The squad began its investigation by visiting nightclubs and book-making offices to try and pin down any evidence of extortion by The Firm. Read soon realised that at some stage, they would have to rely on evidence from other criminals if they were going to be successful in their objective.

He and du Rose had a long and heated meeting at Scotland Yard with top police lawyers and eventually persuaded them to accept the need to use criminals to catch them. As Bert Wickstead, a top London policeman, was fond of saying, "In the twilight world of the gangster, archbishops are thin on the ground."

Potential witnesses against the twins were interviewed, but the chain-link fence could not be broken. One man, who had been attacked by them and subsequently ruined, was asked why he would not help to put them away.

"I hate the sight of blood," he said, "particularly my own."

Then Read had his big break. It came from Leslie Payne. He knew about McVitie's abortive bid to kill him, and how it had originated. "The Hat's" subsequent disappearance convinced Payne that he needed to act and protect himself further against Ronnie, and the wrath of The Firm. He passed word down to Read that he was ready to talk.

Over the next three weeks, secreted away in a seedy hotel in Marylebone, he sat and talked to Read and some of his team. He filled over two hundred pages of testimony by the time he was through. He detailed all that he knew about the twins: Esmaralda's Barn, the long-firm frauds, the rackets, the violence, and their connection to the Mafia in America. By Christmas, Read had a huge database. Next he needed proof and witnesses to corroborate it all.

 

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